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Plans to legalize prostitution in South Africa gain ground, critics

Plans to legalize prostitution in South Africa gain ground, critics
YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa might be giving its all to prepare for the 2010 World Cup, but some think it has stepped out of bounds. A proposal to legalize prostitution there before the tournamount starts has several opposition parties and religious groups in the country crying foul, both for fear that the practice could become permanent and because, in the words of one critic, it “defies the word of God.”

The hullabaloo started back in January when George Lekgetho, a member of Parliament, made a pitch for legalization at a committee meeting. He pointed out that prostitution is legal in Germany, the 2006 World Cup Host, to bolster his argument, adding that legalization would mean less rape and “added tax revenue.”

Though most of the other MPs laughed off the proposal, the idea has gained major ground with Durban’s local government. South Africa’s third largest city boasts a sizeable prostitute population, which legalization advocates claim would be better protected if the trade was allowed.

That’s questionable. Legalization isn’t likely to make things any better for the thousands of young girls in the trade, who are typically at the mercy of pimps and dismal working conditions in the widely impoverished country. Even in comparatively well-off Germany, legalization brought its own share of problems during the cup, including how to handle reported increases of sex-trafficking from Eastern Europe.

Nor does South Africa’s astronomical AIDS rate help the argument much, since legalization probably won’t be accompanied by widespread promotion of “safer-sex practices.” This, after all, is a country where the likely future president “took a shower” after having sex with an HIV-positive woman to prevent infection.

In any case, South Africa has plenty of other battles to wage before 2010. The skyrocketing costs of stadium construction, constant power outages, and consistently high petty and violent crime rates in major cities are sure to keep the South African government occupied until the tournament kicks off. Or else thousands of tourists and millions of TV-watchers worldwide could get a dismal view of a country that has held so much hope.